Greek Mythology

Essential Question

Why was mythology important to the Ancient Greeks and to people in the modern-day?

Greek Gods

The ancient Greeks believed in many gods. These gods were at the center of Greek mythology (a body of stories about gods and heroes that try to explain how the world works). Each story, or myth, explained natural or historical events.

People today have scientific explanations for events like thunder, earthquakes, and volcanic eruptions. The ancient Greeks did not. They believed their gods caused these events to happen, and they created myths to explain the gods' actions. Among the most important Greek gods were:

• Zeus, king of the gods

• Hera, queen of the gods

• Poseidon, god of the sea

• Hades, god of the underworld

• Demeter, goddess of agriculture

• Athena, goddess of wisdom

• Apollo, god of the sun

• Artemis, goddess of the moon

• Ares, god of war

• Aphrodite, goddess of love

• Hephaestus, god of metalworking

• Dionysus, god of celebration

• Hermes, the messenger god

The Greeks saw the work of the gods in events all around them. For example, the Greeks lived in an area where volcanic eruptions were common. To explain these eruptions, they told stories about the god Hephaestus (hi-FE.S-tuhs), who lived underground. The fire and lava that poured out of volcanoes, the Greeks said, came from the huge fires of the god's forge. At this forge he created weapons and armor for the other gods.

The Greeks did not think the gods spent all their time creating disasters, though. They also believed the gods caused daily events. For example, they believed the goddess of agriculture, Demeter (di-MEE-tuhr), created the seasons. According to Greek myth, Demeter had a daughter who was kidnapped by another god. The desperate goddess begged the god to let her daughter go, and eventually he agreed to let her return to her mother for six months every year. During the winter, Demeter is separated from her daughter and misses her. In her grief, she doesn't let plants grow. When her daughter comes home, the goddess is happy, and summer comes to Greece. To the Greeks, this story explained why winter came every year.

To keep the gods happy, the Greeks built great temples to them all around Greece. In return, however, they expected the gods to give them help when they needed it. For example, many Greeks in need of advice traveled to Delphi, a city in central Greece. There they spoke to the oracle, a female priest of Apollo to whom they thought the god gave answers. The oracle at Delphi was so respected that Greek leaders sometimes asked her for advice about how to rule their cities.

Greek Heroes

Not all Greek myths were about gods. Many told about the adventures of great heroes. Some of these heroes were real people, while others were not. The Greeks loved to tell the stories of heroes who had special abilities and faced terrible monsters. The people of each city had their favorite hero, usually someone from there.

The people of Athens, for example, told stories about the hero Theseus. According to legend, he traveled to Crete and killed the Minotaur, a terrible monster that was half human and half bull. People from northern Greece told myths about Jason and how he sailed across the seas in search of a great treasure, fighting enemies the whole way.

Perhaps the most famous of all Greek heroes was a man called Hercules. The myths explain how Hercules fought many monsters and performed nearly impossible tasks. For example, he fought and killed the hydra, a huge snake with nine heads and poisonous fangs. Every time Hercules cut off one of the monster's heads, two more heads grew in its place. In the end, Hercules had to burn the hydra's neck each time he cut off a head to keep a new head from growing. People from all parts of Greece enjoyed stories about Hercules and his great deeds.

Greek Literature

Homer and Epic Poetry

Because the Greeks loved myths and stories, it is no surprise that they created great works of literature. Early Greek writers produced long epic poems, romantic poetry, and some of the world's most famous stories.

Among the earliest Greek writings are two great epic poems, the Iliad and the Odyssey, by a poet named Homer. Like most epics, both poems describe the deeds of great heroes. The heroes in Homer's poems fought in the Trojan War. In this war, the Mycenaean Greeks fought the Trojans, people of the city called Troy. The Iliad tells the story of the last years of the Trojan War. It focuses on the deeds of the Greeks, especially Achilles (uh-KIL-eez), the greatest of all Greek warriors. It describes in great detail the battles between the Greeks and their Trojan enemies.

The Odyssey describes the challenges that the Greek hero Odysseus (oh-DI-see-uhs) faced on his way home from the war. For 10 years after the war ends, Odysseus tries to get home, but many obstacles standing his way. He has to fight his way past terrible monsters, powerful magicians, and even angry gods.

Both the Iliad and the Odyssey are great tales of adventure. But to the Greeks Homer's poems were much more than just entertainment. They were central to the ancient Greek education system. People memorized long passages of the poems as part of their lessons. They admired Homer's poems and the heroes described in them as symbols of Greece's great history.

Homer's poems influenced later writers. They copied his writing styles and borrowed some of the stories and ideas he wrote about in his works. Homer's poems are considered some of the greatest literary works ever produced.


Other Greeks told stories to teach people important lessons. Aesop (EE-sahp), for example, is famous for his fables. Fables are short stories that teach the reader lessons about life or give advice on how to live. In most of Aesop's fables, animals are the main characters. The animals talk and act like humans. One of Aesop's most famous stories is the tale of the ants and the grasshopper:

"The ants were spending a fine winter's day drying grain collected in the summertime. A Grasshopper, perishing [dying] with famine [hunger], passed by and earnestly [eagerly] begged for a little food. The Ants inquired [asked] of him, "Why did you not treasure up food during the summer?" He replied, "I had not leisure enough. I passed the days in singing." They then said in derision: "If you were foolish enough to sing all the summer, you must dance supperless to bed in the winter. "

- Aesop, from "The Ants and the Grasshopper"

The lesson in this fable is that people shouldn't waste time instead of working. Those who do, Aesop says, will be sorry. Another popular fable by Aesop, "The Tortoise and the Hare," teaches that it is better to work slowly and carefully than to hurry and make mistakes. "The Boy Who Cried Wolf" warns readers not to play pranks on others. Since we still read these fables, you may be familiar with them.

Greek Myths

Myths and Legends: Icarus flies too close to the sun

Myths and Legends: The tragic love story of Orpheus and Eurydice

Myths and Legends: The trials of Hercules

Myths and Legends: Odysseus and his odyssey, the short version

Myths and Legends: Achilles and the Trojan War

Myths and Legends: Perseus, renowned hero of ancient Greece

Myths and Legends: The story of Prometheus and Pandora's box

The Impact of Greek Mythology In The Modern Day

Probably the most obvious way we see the influence of the Greeks is in our language. Many English words and expressions come from Greek mythology. For example, we call a long journey an "odyssey" after Odysseus, the wandering hero of Homer's poem. Something very large and powerful is called "titanic." This word comes from the Titans, a group of large and powerful gods in Greek myth.

Even the names of baby boys and girls are still drawn from Greek Mythology. Some well-known mythical names used today include:


  • Jason: from the Greek hero Jason who led the Argonauts.

  • Troy: from the Greek city of Troy.

  • Damon: was a loyal friend of Pythias in Greek Mythology.


  • Helen: from Helen of Troy, who was the daughter of Zeus.

  • Rhea: the name of Zeus’s mother.

  • Penelope: in The Odyssey, Penelope is the wife of Odysseus.

  • Phoebe: was a Titan associated with the moon.

Nike, the famous shoe and athletic clothing company, gets it name from the goddess Nike who personified victory.

Amazon, the online retail store is named after the group of strong women warriors who were trained in combat and archery and known as the Amazons

The jewellery brand took its name from the first mortal woman in Greek mythology, her name meant all-gifted.

Many places around the world today are also named after figures from Greek myths. For example, Athens is named for Athena, the goddess of wisdom.

Africa's Atlas Mountains were named after a giant from Greek mythology who held up the sky.

The name of the Aegean Sea comes from Aegeus, a legendary Greek king.

The Percy Jackson is a best selling book series and movie series that draws on Greek mythology. There are several books that draw inspiration from Greek Mythology.

Many movies draw on famous Greek heroes such as Hercules, Achilles, Odysseys, and Pericles. List of films based on Greco-Roman mythology

The most famous comic book heroin is based off the Greek Amazons, a group of women warriors. The series draws on many aspects of Greek Mythology.

Greek mythology has been the focus of many art pieces especially during the Renaissance.

The columns or pillars you see on grand buildings today are most likely inspired by Greek architecture. The most famous example of Greek architecture is the Parthenon, a magnificent building with pillars located in Athens. It was a temple dedicated to Athena, Queen of the Gods, from the people of Athens. Each Greek structure was inspired by the story and unique abilities of a specific God. Today, pillars are used in many public buildings such as churches and libraries. One famous modern-day building is the White House where the President lives. Each aspect and characteristic of Greek architecture was designed to complement and relate to one another. There are three systems of architecture, known as orders — the Doric, the Ionic and the Corinthian.

US Apollo Space Program to take astronauts to the moon was named after Apollo, based the God’s ability as an archer to hit his target.

The planets and most of the moons and items in space are named after different Greek Gods, (but some using Roman names). Jupiter's moon Io was named after a goddess's daughter.

Many sports teams have adopted the names of powerful figures from myths, like Titans or Trojans like USC.

Discussion Questions

  • Who was Homer and why is he so important?

  • Why was Greek Mythology so important to the Greeks?

  • How has Greek Mythology impacted the modern day?

  • Which Greek myth do you enjoy the most? Why?

Activity 1: How were Greek Myths important to the Ancient Greeks and how are they important for us in the modern day?

Using the information from this lesson, answer the questions in a thinking map. Complete this assignment digitally or on paper. It will be collected in your portfolio.

Extension Activities